At the age of 84, Mrs. Elfriede Rinkel must have thought she’d got away with it. She built a trim little alibi, living in San Francisco and marrying a German Jewish husband, who has died. But the U.S. Department of Justice was catching up with her, and she has been deported back to the Germany from which she once fled. What she kept secret all these years is that she was a warder at Ravensbrück concentration camp for women. Spare a thought for the 90,000 or more who were murdered there, among them Franz Kafka’s fascinating girlfriend, Milena Jesenka. One survivor was Margarete Buber-Neumann, who wrote a magnificent, indeed historic, account of her ordeal as a prisoner in both Soviet and Nazi camps.
Mrs. Rinkel may have seen these great women, but she would not have singled them out from all the others with their striped clothes and shaven heads and potential for typhoid. Her job was to patrol with dogs, for as she puts it, “You have to watch so they don’t run away.” Absurdly, insultingly, she goes on to claim that she knew nothing about what was going on inside the camp. So why might the women run away ? What need was there for dogs trained to attack and kill?
Back in Germany, she can have a reunion with Günter Grass who kept his SS past a secret. Such veterans of Hitler hope that the rest of us will come to feel sorry for them. But like so much else in life, justice is better late than never.